Last September, Project Veritas released a video that suggested there has been substantial voter fraud in Minnesota elections, particularly in the Somali community, and linked that fraud to Ilhan Omar’s machine. The New York Times then published a series of articles that smeared Veritas and its video as a “coordinated disinformation campaign,” alleging that the video was “deceptive” and “false.” Project Veritas sued the Times in state court in New York, and the Times moved to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to state a claim.
On Thursday, the presiding judge denied the Times’s motion to dismiss in an opinion you can read here. Denial of the motion to dismiss does not mean that Veritas will ultimately win the case, obviously, but it means that Veritas will be able to proceed with discovery and try to prove that the newspaper’s reporters and editors acted with “actual malice.” That means they knew their stories were false, or realized they were likely false, and printed them anyway.
The court’s opinion is notable in part for what it tells us about the Times’s defenses. The Times now argues that when it said the Veritas video was “deceptive,” “false,” and part of a “coordinated disinformation campaign,” those were mere statements of opinion, not fact, even though they appeared in news reports. Judge Wood comments:
Defendants argue that their statements describing Veritas’ Video as “deceptive,” “false,” and “without evidence” were mere opinion incapable of being judged true or false. However, if a writer interjects an opinion in a news article (and will seek to claim legal protections as opinion) it stands to reason that the writer should have an obligation to alert the reader, including a court that may need to determine whether it is fact or opinion, that it is opinion.
Stating that the video is “deceptive” and stating “without verifiable evidence” in a factual way in a news article certainly presents the statement as fact, not opinion.
I also find it ironic that the Times, whose news section consists largely of narratives based on leaks by anonymous sources, now criticizes Project Veritas because its video allegedly relies on “unidentified sources.”
Finally, the Times argued that its disparagement of Veritas’s video was true as a matter of law because its assertions had been echoed by other “fact checkers.” In other words, if liberal news outlets all gang up on a conservative source, none of them can be sued. Judge Wood rejected this novel theory:
While this is a lengthy media list, polling does not decide truth nor speak to evidence, and Defendants have not met their burden to prove that the reporting by Veritas in the Video is deceptive.
Thus, Judge Wood concluded that “Plaintiff is entitled to try to establish whether NYT’s writers were purposely and/or recklessly inaccurate, or whether they were inaccurate, sloppy, or something less.”
Discovery should prove interesting. Veritas’s lawyers will be able to inquire into the process whereby the reporters’ smears made it into print. This reference to facts laid out by Veritas in response to the motion to dismiss is intriguing:
Notably, Veritas documented in its complaint metadata and screen shots that demonstrate the unlikelihood that Ms. Astor read and digested the EIP report/blog post, reviewed news reports on Minnesota ballot issues, viewed the Video online, obtained comment from Alex Stamos, wrote her own Article, submitted it to her editors, and had it posted online, all within 63 minutes (Complaint, at paragraphs 83-92, Astor Aff.).
The New York Times is a disgrace to journalism. While current defamation law makes it almost impossible for a plaintiff who is a public figure to win–hence the impunity with which organizations like the Times feel free to lie about their political enemies–it will be interesting to see what facts emerge from this lawsuit.